Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm listening

Simon started junior high last week--seventh grade. Any of you who loved junior high, please raise your hand? No takers?

So it wasn't without a ridiculous amount of anxiety that I sent Simon off to school last Tuesday, his backpack slung confidently over his shoulder as he headed down the street to meet up with his friends. Later that morning, Ron went out to buy him a cell phone at my urging. "But he doesn't need one," Ron said, "He's 12. Who's he going to call?" "I didn't say he needed one," I told him. "I need him to have one. It's for me, not him, okay? (sniff sniff)"

And I'm happy to report that I didn't call him the next afternoon to ask him when he'd be home. I sat in the front room, pretending to read, waiting for him to walk in the door, which he did about five minutes after I expected him to. Still, I didn't call.

Until the next afternoon when he was about two minutes later than I thought he'd be. He was 2 blocks away and not at all put out with me for calling.

I'm admitting here that junior high is harder on me so far than it is on him. Because I remember it.

Sixth grade comes back with near-perfect clarity: the first boy I ever had a monstrous crush on (Scott last-name-withheld-to-protect-the-innocent),the hideous outfit I loved (off-white skirt; green shirt; green-and-white-striped knee socks; those black, canvas Mary Jane shoes you can get even now for $5, so imagine how much they cost almost 30 years ago), my favorite teacher (Mrs. Floyd), the note-writing and sleepovers and seances and secrets.

Seventh and eighth grade blend together, probably because they were in the same wing of the school, with clarity as well.

I remember the boy (bigger than my father) on the bus who threatened almost daily--while the bus driver laughed--to rape me. I remember the boys, several years older than me but still in my grade, cornering me in the hall to grab at me, making me late for class but unwilling to tell the teacher why. I remember the girls who left me notes on the locker-room wall, promising to beat me up after school. I remember the gym teacher who called me back from across the basketball court so, he said with smirk under his mustache, he could watch me walk away again. And he did.

Although I don't recall those years with as much fondness, I do have some nice memories as well: Latin class; Mrs. Floyd still paying attention to how I was doing in school; my realization that I wanted to be a writer someday on whatever scale I could; my best friend, Lisa, whom I still stay in touch with today; the bus driver (the same one who laughed at the idea of me being raped) turning the bus around and driving me and the rest of the kids still on it back to school after I cussed him out and called him an idiot for not letting a kid whose brother was threatening to kill him get off at my stop; having the principal tell the driver to take me back home because I was a good kid; my realization that I knew how to stick up for myself and others; my "trailer-trash" friend and our obsession with Duran Duran, whom talked about endlessly while we sat outside her trailer and she smoked cigarettes.

I know growing up is about learning to handle the bad and appreciate the good and hopefully grow from both. And I know watching your kids grow up is about panicking the entire time, often to the verge of tears, while you wonder if they're telling you everything. Or anything.

I never told my parents any of the bad. It wasn't that I was afraid to; I just didn't realize I should. Would a cell phone have changed how I handled those situations? Would I have dialed them up on the bus and told them about the big kid in the back who scared the crap out of me? Would I have called them from the locker room to ask them to report the coach? I don't know. And I don't know how much of the good I told them either.

But I want Simon to know I want to hear from him. I want him to know I'm on speed dial. I want him to know I keep the phone on and near me all day in case he needs me. I want him to know what happens to him--the bad or the good--matters to me. And if a cell phone reminds him of any of these things, then I need him to have one. And perhaps he'll realize he needs it--and me--as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cobwebs and mold

My family got back at about 2 a.m. yesterday from a two-and-a-half-week vacation visiting family, friends, and the beach. Welcoming us on our return was a basement cobweb the size of Rhode Island but with a few more residents. Although Ron cleared it away, I'm still getting tangled up in its remnants every time I go down there to do a load of laundry. I was amazed at how quickly our house got taken over while we were gone.

Mold was another squatter. I opened up the cream cheese this morning and figured since it was more green than white, I should find a new package. Of course, the growth there shouldn't have been a surprise. A lot can happen to food in 17 days.

So I've been thinking about what can happen to a family when we just check out, leave relationships abandoned for a while, stop dusting and sweeping and mopping, stop taking advantage of the good stuff in order to clear the way for even more good stuff.

We spent our week at the beach with my mom, a few siblings, their spouses, my sister's in-laws, and a bunch of nieces and nephews. And as chaotic as that might sound (and at times was), it was the best vacation I've ever taken. (Ron, if you read this, I'll exclude our honeymoon.)The weather was perfect, the house we stayed in ideal, the beach almost empty, the waves just the right size for the kids to play in safely all but the last day (Hurricane Bill ticked off the ocean). None of us got enough sleep, but we got in plenty of conversation and laughter and food and sunshine.

I looked forward to this vacation for a long time, but not without some anxiety. Because I have a large family (seven siblings), plenty of personality clashes aren't that uncommon. And we tend to argue and debate (you name it, we've covered it) more than discuss issues. We're an opinionated bunch, and that doesn't mean we necessarily think through our opinions before voicing them--and often stomping our feet while doing so. As we all get older, our kids get older as well. And they're no less opinionated than their parents.

But it's the closest I've felt to my family as a whole in a long time . . . maybe ever. It made me wish we all lived closer to one other so our kids could be better friends. It made me wish keeping in touch were easier. Yes, even with email and Facebook and Blackberries and iPhones, we still manage to go months without contacting a sibling or two.

Though you wouldn't have known it based on how easily we slipped into each others' company again. And I didn't feel like a kid sister this time--or a big sister, for that matter. I was just part of a large family that likes laughing more than just about anything else in the world, so thank goodness that even when we don't see eye to eye, we can still crack each other up to the point of tears.

So this past week wiped away a lot of the cobwebs that have been hanging around. In fact, by weeks' end, I'd say it wiped away all of them. Will they come back? Probably. After all, even if we do this every year, it only takes a couple of weeks to entertain squatters: spiders, mold, resentment, disapproval, judgment, dismay.

But as my nephew kept singing one night: "We are family." And when we do see each other again, we'll just magically wave our arms, clear the way, toss out the green cream cheese, and head for the shore. I can't wait.